Crowning of Mary ritual has deep roots for Latin American Catholics

The Rev. Sotero Sena of Our Lady of Guadalupe church arranges Easter lilies around the statue of the Virgin Mary on Wednesday at the church. (Photo by Eric Kluth)

Darrell Todd Maurina

Food, fun, games and a special Catholic Mass and procession through the streets will highlight next weekend for many in Clovis’ Hispanic community.

“Last year we got 3,900 to 4,200 people, just for one day on Saturday,” said Mario Martinez, coordinator of Fiesta 2004 for Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. “We are open to everyone, all are welcome.”

Built in 1948 on the 100 block of Davis near the heart of the traditional Hispanic neighborhood of Clovis, the church has sponsored the annual fiesta for many decades in connection with the annual Crowning of Mary, a ritual with deep roots in the piety of Latin American Roman Catholics.

“We celebrate Mass, we carry Mary around the church, and we have someone who makes a crown of flowers and places it on her head,” said the Rev. Sotero Sena, parish priest at the church.

“In May, we traditionally have had the Crowning of Mary,” Sena said. “We will meet in the (parish) hall, proceed around the block, continue with our singing, and then continue with the Mass, giving her a place in our hearts.”

Sena said he’s attended special ceremonies marking the festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe ever since he was a young boy growing up in Fort Sumner.

“I did not know that much of what was going on,” Sena said. “It was my grandmother who took me. She said, ‘We have to go to the Crowning of Mary.’ I would say, ‘Why?’ and she would say, ‘She is the queen of the world, queen of our hearts.’”

Many of the same processional songs Sena sung as a young boy will be used this year in Clovis, although the Spanish-language songs he learned as a child in church singing praises to Mary are now printed in both English and Spanish in a church bulletin given to those participating in the processional.

Sena said he’d like to see as many people as possible come to the event so they can learn about and appreciate Catholic worship.

“The church has a lot of traditions and Mary is very special to us Catholics,” Sena said. “I believe in light of the ‘Passion of the Christ’ movie, many of our brother Christians will come to realize how important Mary is to us. She’s always had a very special place in our hearts as Roman Catholics because the articles of the faith and the scriptures say she is the mother of the living God.”

While the crowning of Mary following the 8:30 a.m. Sunday Mass is the highlight of Fiesta 2004, the event includes many cultural as well as religious activities and is one of the parish’s major fundraising events. According to a schedule provided by church member Robert Telles, the fiesta begins with a Friday night dinner and variety show. On Saturday, food booths, arts and crafts, bingo, games, and live entertainment will be held from 10 a.m. until evening, with a dance from 8 p.m. to midnight. Sunday’s events begin with a procession at 8:30 a.m., mass at 9 a.m., and the Crowning of Mary after the Mass. Games and food will be the same as Saturday, with a “Bingo Grande” jackpot beginning at 5:30 p.m.

People who patronize the Hispanic events are helping to support the ministry of the parish, Martinez said.

“The money is used for our building fund,” Martinez said. “We are doing a big remodeling job in our parish hall. We’re putting in a new kitchen — we’re looking at $30,000 just for the kitchen.”

Martinez said event organizers want to emphasize that the Fiesta 2004 and its Crowing of Mary event have nothing to do with another traditional Hispanic festival, the Cinco de Mayo celebration. Cinco de Mayo is a secular Mexican holiday commemorating a Mexican military victory over French invading forces in 1862. The Crowning of Mary festival in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe traces its origins to a native American named Juan Diego, a Catholic convert, who said the Virgin Mary appeared to him a number of times in 1531.

“She is our mother and the queen of the Americas,” Martinez said. “The festivals are very different.”